In the previous post, The 10 Kinds of Healthy Love (5): HOW to Fall in Love with the Present, we saw that positive psychology has differentiated among 3 kinds of happiness: pleasure, flow, and eudaimonia, which have different characteristics. All 3 share positive emotions that lead to the love for the present moment NOW. While the previous post mentioned alcohol and drug use as popular substances people cling to in their attempt at hacking flow and eudaimonia, this post is dedicated to the sleazy, manipulative behaviors aimed at hacking eudaimonia in particular and how to deal with them effectively for the sake of our own happiness and psychological health.
When and why we try to hack eudaimonia
Being the highest form of happiness, eudaimonia is the hardest to achieve because heart-to-heart, eye-to-eye, open, and free interactions with another human being are its indispensable ingredients. As these interactions may be different forms of communication via verbal or non-verbal language, so are different the many manipulative behaviors we may find ourselves clinging to in our attempt at hacking eudaimonia. We are inclined to seek the "shortcut" to eudaimonia when we have not mastered the previous 2 stairs of happiness - pleasure and flow. That is, 1) we have not developed our taste and sensitivity, and so we are numb and unmoved by our immediate physical environment, and 2) we have not practiced whatever interests us, and we have not discovered our talents and creativity, and so we feel lonely in our own company. Consequently, we have become disinterested in the environment (and so we feel bored) and disinterested in ourselves (and so we feel empty). By contrast, a person who's interested in themselves does not feel empty nor lonely in their own company.
"If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company." — Jean-Paul Sartre
Bored and empty/lonely, we make use of the below
8 most common manipulative behaviors
on autopilot as we try to compensate for our failure to master the pleasant life of pleasure and the engaging life of flow. The effect of applying this compensatory strategy is the same as the failure to master the fulfilling life of eudaimonia - we get rejected as there are no talents of ours we are ready to bring forth and give away freely to others so we can have some fun together, learn something from each other, heal our wounds unknowingly, or support each other naturally. In other words, we have not developed our virtues and humanity to be capable of healthy human interactions. Ironically, the more we apply the below hacks out of our unpreparedness to go without them, the more rejected we are by the society we crave to belong to. The more we stuff ourselves with a rich assortment of manipulative techniques, the less room we leave for eudaimonia to take place in our lives and make us happy like nothing else could ever do. This is one of the many paradoxes of life well-captured in the quote below:
“Those who are hardest to love, need it the most.” — Socrates
With the quote in mind, remember not to be judgmental but rather forgiving when observing the below manipulative behaviors in yourself or others so that you can correct them as best as you can as soon as you can for the betterment of everyone.
Telling lies and/or flatteries
Playing Mr./Ms. Nice
Making up excuses
Self-blaming, crying, and/or whining
Blaming and exposing the other's weaknesses
While many of the above are considered desirable (such as making promises, saying nice things even when they are not true, saying sorry, and bringing the other's attention to their imperfections, so we give them feedback), I will argue in some detail below that they are all forms of manipulation that burden the natural and easy establishment of a heart-to-heart connection between people which is the basis of eudaimonia.
So let's see now I) what these manipulative behaviors are, II) what they do to us, and III) how to avoid them.
Telling lies and/or flatteries
We may be tempted to tell a lie or flattery to get our foot in the door or to sneak out of a difficult situation. In such moments, we may believe that a single (white) lie wouldn't hurt until we realize later that a lie never comes alone. Once the first lie is spoken, it leads to a second to back up the first, then a third one is needed to back up the second, and so on. This way, we add one block after another, building a prison of lies we lock ourselves into residing for as long as we maintain the purposefully untruthful account. We are inclined to do so out of the fear of losing the trust that granted us access to experiences (with another person) that we otherwise believe would be inaccessible. In fact, they are inaccessible only because they were unimaginable to us before that. If they were imaginable/ accessible, we wouldn't opt for the mischief of telling lies. We are inclined to finally risk breaking free from the prison of our own making when we realize that the fun is going on outside of it, and we are actually missing out more by maintaining the lie than we would if breaking free. Unfortunately, once Pandora's box has been left open by the release of the first lie, even if a confession is made and it is met with understanding and forgiveness, the effect of the lie, which is a breach of trust, is irreversible.
Playing Mr./Ms. Nice
is the lending of favors and spoiling of our victim with all sorts of gestures with the expectation of a return. Knowing the power of water to cut through stone with soft perseverance, we may be tempted to play kind and helpful. However, the result will never be the desired one if we are not sincere because instead of rewarded, we will start feeling used, revengeful, and passive-aggressive in demanding "compensation" for all those times we were around for them while they never were there for us, forgetting that this plan and the subsequent expectations are our own invention. The reality may be that the victim is genuinely way nicer than Mr./ Ms. Nice, but the mind of the manipulator is far too closed and blinded by their insatiable need for recognition to accept and appreciate love in any amount or form.
that the lending of comforting behavior will continue or is about to start any moment and last forever for free [any behavior that falls under the equivalent of the Bulgarian phrase "свалям звезди"] is in place to buy time for the execution of all other manipulations in the repertoire that just as lies never come alone but always in the plural.
Making up excuses
when the lie has been revealed, Mr./Ms. Nice has shown their not-so-nice face under the mask or broke a promise. All of these catch up in time with the manipulator unavoidably due to the impossible pressure they release on them: it is impossible to construct the perfect fortress of lies that will never crumble under the smallest and most unexpected ray of light/ give-away truth served by one of an infinite number of uncontrollable circumstances; it is impossible always to play nice and never vent out to reveal the impatience for (undeserved) reward; and it is impossible never to break a promise that was too generous (or we wouldn't make it; we would proceed directly to realizing what we wanted the other to believe we will do instead). The result of the crumbling of our edifice of hidden manipulation is that we go for making up excuses. Usually, these excuses are supported by the same assortment of manipulation strategies (making new lies, playing nice in a new way, and/or making new promises) that brought us to the necessity of making up excuses in the first place.
The best apology is the changed (for the better) behavior, but actions take time, and words are so easy to say. Moreover, words add drama to any situation, making it feel more special than it really is, and create realities that were not there previously, for the better or worse. (Publicly) declaring that we are sorry and apologizing appears to release us from the burden of guilt, shame, and the disadvantageous position we find ourselves in in the aftermath of our mischief being revealed. However, in reality, it only fools (us) that the job of correction is done when it has not even started. This is a form of deceit as we receive something (recovery from some form of exile) for nothing (no correction of behavior). On the other hand, if we start correcting our behavior, even if we do not say a word about it, the apology will be truly accepted and appreciated just as silently.* We would be skeptical about the power of silent fixes if we do not trust that the other believes in us (again) or forgives us (entirely) unless they declare so in words explicitly. But this is a problem of our mistrust in ourselves and them which is just as offensive as the thing we want to be forgiven about.
Forced to the extreme, the above means that if we have enough faith in each other's hearts, we barely need words, and on the rare occasions we do use them, we do so to tell a joke for fun, say something poetically enigmatic and mesmerizing to awe, or tell an emotionally provoking story. Mind that explaining the workings of something handy, telling thought-provoking stories, and philosophizing is not among those hearty, homey, cozy, faith-full uses of words as they are driven by doubt, search, or insecurity! In fact, philosophy is the last thing to serve as a heart-to-heart bridge, as it is the linkage of minds which can serve us at the level of flow but not at the level of eudaimonia.
* Of course, we need to explicitly apologize to the next person in the crowd on whose shoes we stepped, but we do so out of courtesy and good manners, and we don't do so when we choose to go without these refinements because there is nothing we can gain from applying them or because we are not forced to apply them. In this case, a person with manipulative habits is the one who refrains from making an apology, while a person of integrity and decency is the one who will apologize. This reversal is due to the fact that we stepped over the person's shoe involuntarily and do not feel really guilty about it; there was no intent implied to the action. If we want to make up for it, it is due to our good education rather than the intrinsic need to be forgiven. On the other hand, every time we apply a manipulation tactic, we are aware of it, maybe somewhere very deep inside, but we feel and know that we want to achieve a certain result that the victim of our manipulation does not necessarily want as well. Thus, we feel guilt and the need to apologize and be forgiven only after we have done something voluntarily against what we perceive to be the best interest or will of the victim.
Blaming and exposing the other's weaknesses
When the telling of lies and flatteries, playing nice and kind, making promises, making up excuses, and giving apologies did not bring about the result of us being eudaimonicly/ blissfully happy with someone we aimed at because they (can) never do, especially in the long run, we look around for someone to blame. While it has been us all the time, we attempt to charge with blame the other so we feel less different from them, "bring them down" to our level, and console ourselves that we continue to deserve their time and attention.
Self-blaming, crying, and/or whining
When the other does not buy our attempts to put the blame on them and have the fortitude of character to feel absolutely uninvolved in manipulations, we may try to provoke them to feel pity and sorry for us or guilty for what they have (unknowingly) done to us in their care-free demeanor of nonchalance we have so much envy for. We resort then to self-blaming, crying, whining, acting out suicidal attempts, or any other attention-grabbing behavior that demands the other to respond with care most urgently out of the hero/heroine instinct we trigger in them. We bet on this live-preservation instinct that tells them they have to make sure we stay alive because nothing is so unforgivable or unfixable to deserve the severe (self-)punishment of (self-)destruction we display with exaggeration.
Threatening and demonstrating aggressive, dangerous behavior
When the victim of our manipulations has managed to see through the theatre of our fake self-punishment and self-destruction, as it happens sooner or later, we are left with no other escalation stages left but to exhibit our destructive potential this time outwardly towards other lower-stake victims and finally, the central one. We intend to do so by making the victim feel there is no way out for them but to accept the threatening, aggressive, dangerous, and therefore enslaving behavior. The final destination of manipulation is reached when we have removed any drop of personal free will from our victim and have subordinated them to our will only to find out we are worse off than when we were without them before the start of the series of dehumanizing and enchaining manipulative behaviors.
When we hit the rock bottom of using threats, aggression, and physical violence, we find ourselves at last the furthest possible from where we wanted to be at all costs - eudaimonia. What brought us there is the refusal to allow the other the right to free will (to decide whether to be with us or not) and the subsequent desire to insert our will instead, forgetting that eudaimonia is reserved for the voluntary union of two or more free wills.
But couldn't we be happy with people around us with no free will or wills that are weaker than ours? - The short answer is "No." because 1) we want to find them worthy of our time and attention, and we cannot do so if we perceive their will as weaker or subordinate to ours.
“True friendship can exist only between equals.” — Plato
Furthermore, 2) we want to find them worthy of our trust, and a person who is easily played around and influenced is not such. Let's say we tell a lie (or insert here any other manipulative tactic), and someone buys it. We think, “Oh, how stupid of them.” (=they are unable to decipher/ know me => useless to provide me meaningful feedback => they are irrelevant to my growth => I don’t need them, so why did I lie to get them in the first place if they are not even able to catch me lying => I don't know what to do with them anymore once I got what I thought I wanted.) And the drama does not end with being responsible for someone we misled = took advantage of their innocence/ naivety. Next time we want to trust someone, we think, “Oh, this person looks so trustworthy, but I must have appeared so to the person I lied to as well, so I better trust no one." From then on, we project the untrustworthiness we know we manifest even to the most innocent people just because we see people as we are, not as they are. When we lose trust in (ourselves and) people, we lock ourselves out, we freeze our hearts, and thus cut away our access to what's really worthy in life (trust/faith, love, friendship, support, ideals, values, optimism/hope, and so on).
As a hopeful religion, Christianity professes that redemption is possible because of (divine) mercy and grace, which can be very comforting to a soul suffering the painful regrets of realizations over unlawful past behaviors. On the other hand, Buddhism professes that karma is the merciless supreme law above all others that will come to reward or punish for every deed unavoidably and regardless of how sorry we feel, how much we apologize, and how open we are to correction. While happy endings after a disaster unleashed by a series of manipulative behaviors may be made impressively believable and touching in fiction, mainly Holywood productions such as Mrs. Doubtfire, real-life experience inductively supports that no apology could undo a wrong to make it right, only changed behavior could. However, these reformed behaviors are unproductive if there is a memory of the "dark" past to stain the purity of the new restart of freshly charged hope because of the lingering belief at the back of our mind that warns us (as a precautionary measure against the previously registered pain) that a wolf changes their fur but not their character. This same belief brings about another round of breach of trust because mistrust itself is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, believing 100% in the "rebirth" of an erred character is the miracle of all miracles. Less miraculously and more in line with the law of "what goes around, comes around," trust between 2 people is like a pot - once broken, it is broken, and that is that; no gluing could keep water from draining through the cracks.
Similarly, we need to be the most careful around trust of all things human because it is one of the very few things that are unfixable. There is no way to make this truth more digestible but to embrace it from now on until forever - this is the only repentance possible. Usually, people realize this truth around the age of 7 through tales such as Cry Wolf, but even if there were no one to teach us this or another similar story, life does so sooner than later. (Self-)education in truth saying and authenticity can "save us" to greater success than any other promised salvation we may seek at a larger financial, emotional, and intellectual expense. Without this essential (self-)education of profound existential significance, we are to console ourselves with the excuse that we are all humans, we are all fragile, and we all occasionally apply manipulation and let others manipulate us. However, with or without our excuses, how often manipulation happens and how aware we are about it will continue to reveal how (self-conscious) we are, which wouldn't really matter if it was not a decisive factor in pairing off with others. In the end, we always do get what we deserve, and we always do get together with whom we deserve. Life makes no mistakes in match-making as it wires us psychologically with the kind of people who are best for our (painful) awakening process, the following (blissful) joy, and vice versa.
We can avoid applying manipulative behaviors if we remember that going for authenticity may be the scariest of options, but it is the only sustainable one that grants us the following:
fundamental trust in ourselves and others,
a sense of freedom from guilt,
preservation of our honor and self-esteem,
a reward for courage beyond our wildest dreams,
the pairing off with better people.
We make room for eudaimonia when we speak the truth, apply no flattery, make no promises, make up no excuses, abandon blaming, threatening, and exposing the other's weaknesses, refrain from strategizing on how to gain the other's attention, recognition, trust, loyalty, and love, and give them the freedom to act as they please without using their shortcomings as weapons against them. As hard or risky as this disarmament may feel, the reward of eudaimonia is more than worthy of our efforts: we get to know togetherness, real, heartfelt human connection, and union. If, after we clean our interactions with others from the above 8 most common manipulative behaviors, there is little to nothing left, it only shows 1) the poor quality of the interactions and the lack of meaningful substance and 2) our deep unhappiness as a consequence to 1). Fortunately, raising our understanding of the devastating effects of manipulation, our self-awareness, and our self-control in avoiding and dealing with the reasons behind the above 8 is a good bet against their future spread in our life and the lives of those around us. The best way I know to prepare for situations in which we would be tempted to apply manipulation is to keep a journal. (See Keeping a Journal (2): The Art and Craft on how to master the process if you are new to it. If you are not convinced journaling is an activity worthy of your time, you can try my next post Keeping a Journal (1): The Pros and Cons)
A short checklist
to test the manipulative score of a particular behavior or action of yours in 10 questions:
□ Do I feel that my behavior/action, if seen from "above" or after truthfully retold to a close person, would be disapproved of?
□ Do I feel the need to add self-defense explanations and rationalization when retelling my behavior/action out of shame or fear that I will be judged?
□ Do I feel pressure to hide (parts of) my behavior/action from becoming known?
□ Do I try to avoid other people doing the same to me?
□Do I feel like there are other more important, urgent, and worthy tasks related to work, family, or friends I postpone and sacrifice to regrettable effects in the name of executing the particular behavior or action?
□Do I feel a headache, heartache, nervousness, or any other physical pain due to planning or executing the particular behavior or action?
□Do I feel like I have to apply the particular behavior or action in order to avoid a reaction from the other I wouldn't like otherwise?
□ Do I feel the need to think through my behavior/actions many steps ahead instead of letting myself be present at the moment, allowing room for the other to freely contribute to the situation with their input as it comes?
□ Do I feel the free will of the other is a threat to realizing my planned behavior and actions?
□ Do I feel that I am not ready yet and I always need more time to prepare and tailor-craft my behavior/actions to the situation I feel tempted to predict and control as best as I can?
If you answer with "yes" to any of the 10 questions, you can be sure that there is a manipulative tendency lurking somewhere under your radar and is there to sabotage the authenticity and the quality of your interaction to a disappointing effect. The good thing is that we can always learn from our mistakes, and transparency in relationships is a quality we need to maintain, as in any functioning democracy.
when we give up all shades, tones, and tints of manipulation, then and only then can we experience eudaimonia. We are most willing to do so when we realize that we cannot change anyone unless they are in diapers, but they alone can change themselves if they choose to do so. Yes, humanity, wisdom, and all the other virtues do grant salvation from person to person, but this salvation is never made an objective per se. Being loving or wise is a function of the savior's character that wouldn't be left intact if the salvation of another was to become their objective. We can be saved not because someone intends to save us but because we intend to save ourselves. The "shortcut" promised by any manipulation strategy we may turn to to "help" or exploit others always takes more than we can afford and, luckily, never manages to hit the target in the center. All manipulative behaviors are 2-edge knives that cut both the moral patient and the moral agent. The long road to eudaimonia is the only road - Day in and day out, we use our talents to entertain, teach, heal, or support each other with those who have chosen to share in time and space their journey with us. The best thing we can do to help anyone is to help ourselves, and it is very fortunate to be so. Of course, first, we must know and practice our talents. [A book that might help here is Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World] Only when mindful masters of the physical environment and avid practitioners of their talents two or more willpowers meet to practice together character strengths of virtuous living to the fullest of humanly possible potential for love and happiness on earth.